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The Papers of Sir Edward Crisp Bullard

Reference Code: GBR/0014/BLRD

Scope and Contents

The archive covers almost every aspect of Bullard's career, with the exception of his wartime papers, which he destroyed in 1945. The collection comprises: biographical and family materials; extensive collections of working papers relating to Bullard's research and publications; consultancy and committee papers; lecture notes; and a selection of correspondence; and documents relating to Bullard's antiquarian book collecting.


  • Creation: 1915 - 2014

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Edward Crisp Bullard was born on 21 September 1907 in Norwich, Norfolk, the eldest son of Edward John Bullard and Eleanor Howes. He was educated at Norwich Grammar School, Aldeburgh Lodge, and Repton, and took a double first in the Natural Sciences tripos at Clare College, Cambridge in 1929. He went on to undertake graduate research at the Cavendish Laboratory under the direction of Ernest Rutherford and Patrick Blackett, and gained a PhD in physics and atomic physics in 1932.

In 1931 Bullard took up a post as a demonstrator in the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics in Cambridge, where he worked on a variety of projects: geophysical instrument design; gravity determination in Britain and Africa; explosion seismology, including the first British expeditions to study the Atlantic sea floor; and thermal conductivity. He was seconded to the Admiralty as an Experimental Officer in 1939 to work on strategy and projects connected with marine warfare, including anti-mine protection for shipping. In 1944 he became Assistant Director, Naval Operational Research, and remained an adviser to the Admiralty until his retirement.

In 1947 Bullard accepted a post as Professor of Physics at Toronto. While on a summer vacation visit to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, Bullard carried out some of his most important work on the design of equipment for heat-flow at sea, in collaboration with A. E. Maxwell. In 1950 he was appointed Director of the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, where he continued to work on marine heat-flow, building apparatus and taking part in marine expeditions, and developed his dynamo theory of terrestrial magnetism. He was knighted in recognition of this service and his wartime work in 1953. Bullard returned to the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics at Cambridge in 1955 and was appointed Assistant Director of Research (1956), Reader in Geophysics and Fellow of Churchill College (1960), and Professor (1964). In 1964 he also accepted a Visiting Professorship at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, part of the Scripps Institution, which enabled him to spend three months engaged in teaching and research in La Jolla every year. In his research into continental drift Bullard developed a pioneering interest in computational methods for processing data, which underpinned the eventual acceptance of the concept of plate tectonics. He then began to research the origin of the earth's magnetic field, energy sources, and nuclear waste disposal. Throughout his career Bullard acted as consultant to universities and government departments in both Britain and the United States, and to industrial firms including the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Shell, and I.B.M. UK. He was also a member of professional and learned societies, including the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. He was a founder member of the Natural Environment Research Council; played a part in attempts to negotiate a test-ban treaty, including attending the Pugwash conferences; and was joint chairman of the Anglo-American Ballistic Missiles Committee.

Bullard married Margaret Ellen Thomas, 1931, with whom he had four daughters, the middle of whom were twins. Margaret assisted with Bullard’s early experimental work, keeping notebooks and thermal conductivity measurements. The marriage was dissolved in January 1974, and in June 1974 Bullard married Ursula Margery Curnow, a painter and sculptor.

Bullard died in La Jolla in April 1980, a few hours after completing the manuscript of his 196th scientific article.


117 archive box(es)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

A copy of this finding aid is available for consultation at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge.

Former/other reference

CSAC 100.4.84 (Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

An oral history interview with Sir Edward Crisp Bullard was deposited at the Churchill Archives Centre in 1970. The bulk of the collection was deposited by the family via the Oxford Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre in 1984, with additions from Professor D. McKenzie at the Bullard Laboratories in Cambridge in 1987 and 2014.


A catalogue of this collection was originally compiled by Jeannine Alton and Peter Harper of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (NCUACS, formerly Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre).

This collection level description was prepared by Heidi Egginton in July 2017 using information from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who' Was Who (A & C Black, 2014), and from the NCUACS catalogue to the collection (1984).


Bullard, Sir Edward Crisp, 1907-1980, Knight, marine geophysicist

2017-07-14 16:23:29+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087